Bears Offensive Profile Under John Fox
2015-2016 Pass Attempts Rank: 25th, 22nd
2015-2016 Rush Attempts Rank: 6th, 25th
2015-2016 Play Volume Rank: 18th, 30th
2015-2016 Yards Per Play Rank: 21st, 5th
Unaccounted for Targets from 2016 (Rank): 166 (9th)
Unaccounted for Carries from 2016 (Rank): 27 (26th)
Projected Starting Lineup
Passing Game Outlook
Mike Glennon drew known interest from only Chicago in free agency, yet still landed a three-year, $45 million deal that realistically amounts to a one-year, $18.5 million commitment. Even after trading up to draft one-year college wonder Mitchell Trubisky at No. 2 overall, the Bears insisted Glennon will open the season as their starter. Regardless of their quarterback’s identity, the Bears will ask him to manage games, avoid mistakes, and play conservatively in an offense featuring one of the NFL’s premier running games for a team that has finished 25th and 22nd in pass attempts in two years under John Fox. Formerly Jameis Winston’s backup, Glennon stands 6-foot-7, 225 with negligible athleticism and arm strength, having tested more like an offensive lineman at the 2013 Combine and registered 49 MPH ball velocity, lower than any current NFL starter. Trubisky’s college sample size was frighteningly small after he rode the bench behind 2016 Packers camp arm Marquise Williams his first two seasons at North Carolina, but the Bears obviously see Trubisky as their future. Chicago has a horrifically challenging first-half schedule, as each of their first six opponents went 8-8 or better last season. Just two of the Bears’ first ten opponents failed to reach .500, outliers being the dangerous Panthers and Saints. As Chicago is likely to pile up losses in September-November, it would be an upset if we didn’t see Trubisky by December.
Despite not becoming a full-time player until October, Cameron Meredith led the 2016 Bears in targets (97), catches (66), receiving yards (888), red-zone targets (12), and red-zone catches (6), finishing as the PPR WR17 from Week 5 onward. The Bears are missing the NFL’s ninth-most targets (166) from last year’s roster with unsettled pass-catcher roles beyond Meredith, a 6-foot-3, 207-pound onetime college quarterback who went undrafted out of Illinois State in 2015 despite superior pre-draft SPARQ results to all but six receivers selected that year. One concern is Meredith’s expected transition from a majority slot man to full-time perimeter wideout, where Meredith averaged just 1.93 yards of separation (Next Gen Stats) compared to a robust 2.89 separation yards on interior routes. Another concern is Chicago’s quarterback uncertainty, and yet another is a thumb injury sidelining Meredith until training camp. Nevertheless, Meredith is the favorite for No. 1 receiver duties on the Bears with potential to annihilate his WR41 Average Draft Position if the team makes a commitment to featuring him, which they should.
The No. 7 pick in the 2015 draft, Kevin White missed his rookie year with a stress fracture in his left tibia, then suffered a season-ending “fibular spiral fracture” with “severe ankle ligament damage” in the same leg last Week 4. Over the last two decades, six first-round receivers have caught fewer than 20 passes through their first two NFL seasons: Yatil Green, R. Jay Soward, A.J. Jenkins, Rashaun Woods, Marcus Nash, and White. The Chicago Tribune reported White had to re-align his stride after two catastrophic injuries to the same leg, while there have been whispers White still struggles to run routes. The Bears force fed White nine targets per game in Weeks 1-4 last year, but he averaged an anemic 5.19 yards per target and appeared far slower on tape than his 4.35 pre-draft speed would suggest. While White’s prospects seem dim, he’s at least cheap with ADPs of WR55 (FF Calc) and WR58 (MFL10s).
Meredith’s relative inexperience and White’s early-career failures make Chicago’s third receiver battle worth monitoring with reclamation projects Kendall Wright, Markus Wheaton, and Victor Cruz vying for snaps. After signing a two-year, $11 million deal with $6 million guaranteed, Wheaton has the biggest contract of the trio. Wheaton flamed out in Pittsburgh due to ineffectiveness and a torn labrum in his shoulder that cost Wheaton all but three games in 2016. Wright was a top-20 pick in the 2012 draft and produced 94/1,079/2 receiving in his second year, but he battled myriad injuries thereafter and clashed with the Titans’ coaches. Wright signed a one-year, $2 million deal with Chicago. Cruz, 30, received the same money as Wright after being cut by the Giants, then waiting over two months after the start of free agency to find a taker. Returning from a 2014 patellar tendon tear and subsequent setbacks, Cruz started 12-of-15 games for the G-Men last season and recorded 39/586/1 on 72 targets. I think Wright has the highest upside of the group, but none of the three is a strong bet for consistent 2017 usage.
Tight end roles are also up for grabs after the Bears signed Dion Sims to a three-year, $18 million deal, then drafted Adam Shaheen in the second round. Injury-riddled 32-year-old Zach Miller has been a useful pass-catching tight end when healthy, but he suffered a Lisfranc fracture last November and isn’t even assured a roster spot. Sims’ contract and versatility make him the best bet for snaps in the group. Sims is an adequate athlete with 4.75 speed and a 35-inch vertical at 6-foot-5, 262, but he averaged just 9.4 yards per reception in four years with the Dolphins and is a short-area possession target whose primary 2017 role may be to block. The Bears hope to groom Shaheen into their tight end of the future. Shaheen stands 6-foot-7, 278 with 73rd-percentile SPARQ athleticism, but rookie tight ends rarely offer impact, and Shaheen is making an enormous jump in competition coming out of Division-2 Ashland.
Running Game Outlook
An unheralded fifth-round pick out of Indiana, Jordan Howard emerged as the Bears’ bellcow back when ineffective starter Jeremy Langford suffered a high ankle sprain last Week 3. Howard averaged 20.2 touches for 114.5 yards per game thereafter, logging a sturdy 5.19 yards per carry and top-seven PPR running back stats over the final 13 weeks. The Bears return all five starters from an offensive line that ranked top ten in PFF's yards created before contact per attempt (1.85) and Football Outsiders’ Adjusted Line Yards, including a first-place finish in FO’s power-blocking rank. There are red flags on Howard’s second-round ADP, however. Howard’s passing-game usage may take a hit after he led all running backs in dropped passes (8) and the Bears signed ex-Rams passing-down specialist Benny Cunningham, then drafted scatback Tarik Cohen in the fourth round. Howard caught only 24 passes in his three-year college career and never projected as much of a receiving threat to begin with. Howard’s 2016 yards-per-carry average dipped to 3.36 against eight-man boxes (Next Gen Stats), which he’s likely to see far more often this season in a slow-paced, low-scoring offense. The Bears are likely to be a bad team with potential for in-season musical chairs at quarterback and a brutally unforgiving schedule that will force Chicago to play from behind. It is surprising MFL10 drafters are selecting Howard as the overall RB7 ahead of higher-ceiling picks DeMarco Murray and Jay Ajayi.
The Bears’ running back depth chart from Nos. 2-5 is ambiguous enough that Howard lacks a definitive handcuff. 2016 Opening Day starter Jeremy Langford has struggled so badly it wouldn’t be a surprise if he were included in final cuts. Even if Benny Cunningham’s depth chart standing is to be determined, his roster spot should be secure based on pass-protection and special teams value. Pint-sized (5’7/179) rookie Tarik Cohen’s fourth-round draft capital should keep him safe. Assuming the Bears roster four runners, Langford may end up battling coaches pet Ka’Deem Carey for the final backfield job.
2017 Vegas Win Total
The Bears have become a fragmented organization in GM Ryan Pace and coach John Fox’s two years together, which have netted a 9-23 record. Last year’s team managed three wins with a Pythagorean Win Expectation of 4.15-4.70, suggesting they underachieved but not to an extent that their 2017 Win Total (5.5) is particularly likely to be topped. Chicago is set up for in-season quarterback change after signing Mike Glennon, then drafting Mitchell Trubisky, while on defense the secondary and inside linebackers look ripe for enemy passing attacks to pick. By far the worst team in the NFC North, the Bears’ schedule otherwise consists of the tough AFC North and high-scoring NFC South, plus the 49ers (home) and Eagles (away). Rotoworld SOS analyst Warren Sharp identified the Bears with the NFL's tenth-toughest schedule overall, and the most difficult slate in the league in Weeks 1-7. Although Chicago’s defensive front and running game are strong enough that six or even seven wins are within the range of potential outcomes, I prefer their chances of losing 11-12.